Atlanta: Ecthells Racing final qualifying report

Despite unusually warm temperatures and a tricky racing surface, the NHRA's Funny Car division continued their assault on the record books. For the fourth time this season, the 6,000-horsepower fuel coupes established a new mark for the quickest...

Despite unusually warm temperatures and a tricky racing surface, the NHRA's Funny Car division continued their assault on the record books. For the fourth time this season, the 6,000-horsepower fuel coupes established a new mark for the quickest field in history, with competitors needing a 4.957-sceond elapsed time or better in order to qualify for Sunday's final eliminations. As such, this produced a mixed bag for the Etchells Racing team.

Jim Epler secured his spot in the field on Friday evening with a strong 4.900 sec., 310.63 mph pass, which eventually placed the Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro 6th, Epler's best qualifying effort of the season. However, his 4.93-second effort on Saturday morning was of nearly equal importance for several reasons. Not only did it occur in the heat of the day, but it also showed the consistency the team had been looking for. Although a mechanical malfunction shortened what seemed to be another strong run on his final attempt, Epler remained confident heading into his first round re-match with No. 11 qualifier Tim Wilkerson.

"We went 4.93 in the heat of the day, but we tried to make it run some speed by putting a little mag in it, and it spun a tire and dropped a cylinder. If we could fix that, it would have run a '.90 or a '.91, which is what we tried to do tonight. Unfortunately, we blew the burst panel, which killed our power.

"But I feel really good about qualifying the Sunoco/Matco Camaro 6th. Not only will it help up with the Big Bud Shootout points, but we'll have lane choice for the first round tomorrow. The key had been getting the car down the track every time. We just have make it run a little better early in the run, but right now we can't afford to do any testing. We need to go up there tomorrow morning and do the best we can to win."

For the second consecutive week, Chuck Etchells limited his qualifying attempt to one pass during the last session. Unfortunately, Etchells' chances disappeared almost immediately when the Motley Crue/Matco Tools Camaro lost traction shortly after launching, forcing the Putnam, CT native to shut off early. Despite the disappointment, Etchells remained upbeat, preferring to focus on the next event in Englishtown, where he will return to full-time competition at the wheel of the Sunoco/Matco Tools Camaro.

"It's almost impossible to get in under these circumstances. If you look at the list of teams that did not qualify, you will see some very strong cars. That's a testament to the strength of the Funny Car category. We had twenty-two cars vying for sixteen spots, with the field separated by a tenth of a second. It's going to be a heck of a race tomorrow, and I'm just happy the Sunoco/Matco Camaro got in. That's the best it's qualified with Jim in it. Hopefully he can do something tomorrow - I think we have as good a shot as anybody else.

"Personally, I'm looking forward to getting my Sunoco trailer from the paint shop, getting all our stuff together in Englishtown and start heading in the right direction. Quite honestly, I just want to put these last few months behind me and start over."

-ER

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Epler , Chuck Etchells , Tim Wilkerson